“Extra Yarn”

As someone who aspires to be a “real” writer when I grow up, I try to be an avid reader as well – to enhance my vocabulary, experience a variety of writing styles, and maintain a general awareness of what is happening in the literary world. However, since my book club has not exactly taken off here in Austin yet, and since my children occupy SO MUCH of my time, the authors on my recently-read list are more reminiscent of Silverstein and Seuss then Steinbeck and Salinger. Although, I still need to get some more mature materials back into the rotation, I’m not entirely disappointed by the deluge of picture books that flood my home after every trip to the library. I love children’s literature. I always have. As a matter of fact, the story I have been working on for longer than I care to admit is a children’s story – one that took me years to even begin writing because I didn’t want to start with an idea that had been written a hundred times before. I wanted something unique and subtle and surprising. A story with hidden layers that keep revealing themselves even after the bazillionth read (since that is how many times children usually ask you to read their favorite stories… every week). As surprising as it may seem, I think I’ve got the idea that meets this tall order, and one day I will finish it. Until then, I will leave you all to wonder about it in suspense, since this post is not about my story. (Hows that for a tease?)

This post is about another story I recently discovered that has so many of the qualities I aspire toward when writing, that it immediately became a source of inspiration and set my creative juices flowing. It is simple and beautiful, clever and subtle, and has layers upon layers of lovely messages for young people. Or it can be taken at face value and seen as just a cute little story that is accessible to even the smallest of readers. After the first time I read it, I liked it so much I was buzzing as I looked at my son and said, “That is what children’s stories are meant to be! I love it!” But I didn’t have to tell him that. He seemed as taken with it as I was – with wide eyes and a deep grin at each turn of the page. And don’t even get me started on the illustrations! So perfect.

The story is called “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

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It is about a young girl who finds a magic box of yarn that never seems to run out.

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And she uses it to make herself and others happy.

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She presses on in spite of teasing and doubters…

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and even bribes.

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It tells how happiness cannot be bought or taken from someone else, but is something that you have to make for yourself – and definitely something to be shared.

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It is about self-assurance and contentment.

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And most of all beauty.

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If you have not already read it, please go get this book and read it to your children. If you don’t have any children, read it to yourself. What have you got to lose besides fifteen minutes of your time. Because, in my opinion, we could all use a little extra yarn.

The Library

Stepping into a library is like stepping back in time. There is a strange and strong sense that this whole system is arcane and unnecessary in today’s high-tech information age. And yet there is something sweet, innocent, almost magical about walking through those doors and being greeted by the sight and smell of rows upon rows of old, dewey-decimaled books. One almost expects to turn a corner and be greeted by “The Pagemaster” himself.

I was always in love with the library as a child – where countless volumes of stories and pictures and even films were available for anyone to borrow and return on the honor system! The only cost of taking armloads home with you was the responsibility to bring them back on time. But even this was negotiable. If you didn’t really want to return your new treasure just yet, you could call and let them know you’d like to keep it a little longer. No problem. Being given a library card was like being given the keys to a whole new world of possibility. One full of unknowns and mystery and knowledge.

But somehow, as I grew up and the world grew around me, I forgot. I left college, started work, started a family, got a smart phone with access to ALL information ALL the time . . . and I forgot. I had not stepped through the doors of a library in over 7 years! Until . . .

I rediscovered the unquenchable thirst of a child who LOVES to read. My son, who turns three next week, cannot possibly get his hands on enough stories and would sit and be read to all day if the adults in his life would just cooperate! I’m not sure how I made it 3 years before finally taking him to this magical place of my youth, but when I finally did, I saw the same wonder and fire in his eyes that used to exist in mine. Perhaps he’s reignited it. As I watched him run from one shelf to the next and excitedly uncover stories both familiar and foreign, fiction and non, and immediately plop down on the floor where he found them and ask, “Will you read dis to me?” I couldn’t help but be inspired.

And, as the rain flooded the world outside, my little boy and I sat on the floor of the library and traveled to far off places, experienced different times, and believed the impossible. 16 books and 2 hours later, we walked out with a brand new key to this kingdom of books and a deep knowledge that it would not be so long before I came back the next time. With my son’s new-found passion, and mine rediscovered, I knew . . . information age or not, there’s nothing that can replace good, old-fashioned books or the house that holds them sacred and keeps them safe.

The Versatile Blogger Award

Well, I’d like to thank the Academy… I mean Stephicakes, one of the most recent jewels I’ve found in my blog surfing, for nominating me for this award. It is good to know that someone I enjoy reading enjoys reading my work as well. And not only enjoys reading it, but thinks I am versatile in my choice/style of writing topics. This is not the first time I’ve received this nomination, but, not knowing how seriously to take it and always being a bit leery of the facebook-type fill-in-the-blank and pass-it-along publicity stunts, I never followed through. But since I felt flattered when I received it then, as I do now, I figured I’d flatter a few other people and pass it along. So here goes:

The rules for accepting this award are as follows:

1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your post.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass this award along to 15 other bloggers.

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Seven Things About Myself:

1.) I am hopelessly in love with three men at the same time! Scandalous, I know! OK, I’ll admit it, two of them are men-in-the-making… but still. Anyone who has read any of my blog probably knows that I’m referring to my hubby and my two boys, the second of which is scheduled to make his debut in only a few short weeks. I ADORE being a mother, even if I’m not always very good at it. It has been one of the most fulfilling (and dang difficult) endeavors I have ever undertaken. And the lessons I have learned in the process are often the topics of this blog.

2.) I aspire to one day be a published author. I know, I know… what consistent and dedicated blogger doesn’t? I’m not entirely sure that I will accomplish this goal some day, but it would be amazing and wonderful if I did. I hope to write children’s books primarily and am constantly toying with new ideas.

3.) One of my biggest motivators in writing this blog (or one day attempting to get published) is the desire to leave a written legacy to my children and grandchildren. To pass on tidbits of wisdom and humility, humor and beauty, and small vignettes of what life looked like when I was young (OK, maybe not so young anymore, but youngER).

4.) Although it is a significant battle sometimes, I REFUSE to give in to cynicism. I prefer instead to believe the best of people and let them continually surprise me; to not always plan for the worst case scenario, but rather the best; and to not let the things that so easily bog us down take a more prominent seat to those that are quietly beautiful.

5.) I LOVE shopping! More specifically bargain hunting. I can’t really explain it, but it gives me a rush of satisfaction and relieves stress in ways very little else can.

6.) I adore cooking and frequently create my own recipes. I see it as a creative outlet, building dishes that are unique and interesting and satisfying out of sometimes surprising ingredients. I rarely use, or perhaps I should say follow, a recipe unless it’s as a springboard for ideas or to remind myself of something lovely I created in the past. My cooking is experimental and, although not all of these experiments are a success, I like to share the ones that are with you, my faithful readers. I imagine that you all jump to cook my most recent recipe post as soon as it comes up, and although I know this is probably not the case, a girl can dream, right ;)

7.) I host a book club once a month that has proven to be an excellent outlet for intellectually stimulating adult conversation that does not center around family and children and everyday life. It has also kept me consistently reading new and surprising books – something that has always been very important for my development both as a person and as a writer.

8.) BONUS tidbit – Although I love being a mother, I HATE being pregnant. Perhaps this is only relevant to me right now because I am enormous and uncomfortable, but it’s true. I also know many of you would gasp and think, “Pregnancy is beautiful and magical, etc. Enjoy every minute!” To those people I want to say, “You are very lucky if that was your experience, and more power to you! Pop out as many kids as you please and embrace the magic!” But for me, this will most likely be my last pregnancy.

So there are just a few things about me you may have already known, or perhaps you didn’t. This is definitely not a comprehensive list, nor is it written in any particular order other than the order in which they popped into my mind. If you are intrigued and would like to know more about me, keep reading . . . I am certainly not shy or private in my writing.

As far as who I’d like to pass this award on to, here is an incomplete list. I don’t want to pick 15 simply because I have to, so I’m picking the ones that I actually consistently read and am personally inspired by:

Life As I Know It – a blog about the many hats of a mom.

Broadside – a blog by a writer in NY who’s life inspires me and whose writing is always intriguing.

Doodlemum – a charming sketch blog that always hits very close to home.

Pomp And Circumstance – a design AND fashion blog, how can you beat that?

Utterly Smitten – tidbits of design and daily life.

The Cotton Boll Conspiracy – a history blog with anecdotes about history that are often surprising.

Redesigning Sarah – a design blog that is always beautiful and a great source for inspiration.

Xanax or Running Shoes? – an honest take on life as a working mom.

Chai Thoughts – my friend’s beautiful blog about life, photography, family, and inspiration.

Dear Photograph – I can’t even summarize this one. You must go check it out.

Jeeze, Julia! – a delightfully whimsical view into one woman’s life and style.

2 Sleeping Babies – a friend’s blog about motherhood and all that it entails.

With a Little Pixie Magic – another friend’s blog who writes about a little of everything in life that just takes a little magic.

Hope you find all of these blogs as intriguing as I do, and show everyone a little love while you’re there!

Green Eggs and Ham

I hate for any meal to be a battle with my two-year old, but especially breakfast.  Mornings are crazy and chaotic at our house with everyone trying to get to work and school at various times and of course the house must always be immaculate in case someone (anyone!) decides to come look at it.  So the last thing I need is to spend an hour coaxing my son to eat something he’d really rather not.  Thus, although my primary goal with any meal is nutrition, at breakfast I try to let Aiden decide, from the options I give him of course, what he would like to eat.  This morning I ran the gambit of all the choices and each was answered with a resounding “NO!”  “Would you like oatmeal?” I asked.  Toast? Pancakes? Fruit salad? Cereal? Granola Bar?  No, no, no, no, no, and NO.  Finally, somewhat exasperated, I asked him, “What would you like to eat, Aiden?”  He answered with a challenging smirk in his eye, “Green eggs and ham!”  My first thought, as a tired, busy mom, was “Seriously, Aiden?!?  No . . . pick something else.”  But a quiet voice in my ear reminded me of one of my parenting goals – only say no if it’s absolutely necessary since there will be ample opportunity to do so.  And why not think outside the box?  So I pondered it for a second and stepped up to my little man’s challenge.  “OK!” I said, “I can do that.”

So I pulled some spinach out of the freezer and set it to boil while I cooked up some bacon (turkey for us, not ham . . . don’t tell Aiden).   When the spinach was finished, I drained it and put it in a blender with 4 eggs, about 2 servings of egg substitute (trying to curb cholesterol), 1% cheddar cheese, dill, garlic salt, and pepper.  I blended it till it was a slimy green mass of uncooked egg (yum, right?) and then put it in a skillet and scrambled it till it was well done.  Add to that some dark wheat toast and VOILA!  A balanced breakfast of green eggs and “ham”.

I asked Aiden if he liked it.  “Try it. Try it and you may, I say!”  His response: “It’s dewishous!”  To top it all off, we read the book while we ate and he kept proudly exclaiming, “Just like I have green eggs!”  It was delightful.  Proving once again that it always pays to be open-minded and stretch your boundaries a little.  And since children have very few boundaries as it is, they make outstanding coaches.  Bon Appetit!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I have just finished reading an extraordinary book entitled, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” I read it for a book club that I lead once a month, but I did not select it. It was chosen by a friend of mine and I must admit, I was sceptical at first. As a matter of fact, I was still sceptical a quarter of the way in, much like one is sceptical of an odd new acquaintance that they just might like to befriend, but they’re not quite sure. Yet the story and the characters so richly developed as I made further progress, that I could not help but be swept away by the poignance, beauty, and humanity that was exhibited in it’s pages. As I began the book, I felt that there was a pervasive cynicism that would be hard to overcome for someone as deliberately optimistic as myself. The two main characters were so isolated in their own minds, that they themselves had a hard time overcoming it. But it was this change from cynicism to hope that gave the book it’s depth. It was utterly beautiful to walk beside, and actually in the very minds of these two women as they learned to believe in humanity and the endless potential hidden in some people that we are fortunate enough to really see and call friends. The story is saturated in philosophy and psychology, which can make it a bit burdensome at times, but also intellectually stimulating and enriching. Because it ends with such a worthy example of what I am trying to accomplish here in my blog, finding beauty in the little thing and using those beautiful moments as building blocks of our happiness, I thought I would share the book with my readers along with my definite stamp of approval.

“In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée’s observations and Paloma’s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor.”
Review by Heather Paulson found on Amazon.